Scripting In The Stars: Limit Theory

I’d almost entirely forgotten about ultra-pretty, hyper-ambitious procedural space-sim Limit Theory until the ghost of Craig Pearson came to me in a dream. In the spirit of Halloween he informed me there was a neeeeew viiiideeeeeoooo before disappearing in a puff of saltires. Thanks Craig.

In one of his largest updates yet, solo dev Josh Parnell details the work he’s been doing over the past two months. A lot of it involves the custom scripting language he’s built to both design the base game and enable easier modding, on which he goes into detail. There’s also a half hour of absolutely gorgeous footage.

While Josh seems to think the new ways he’s building the game, talked about in the final chapter of the video, will be disinteresting to players, I find them fascinating. He’s using his new scripting language in such a way that he can now develop bits of the game in isolation from the rest. Working on UI without loading a game world or being able to tinker with how AI reacts to certain events without graphics getting in the way. For a game that is so modular it makes a tonne of sense.

Which is something of a recurring theme throughout Limit Theory’s development. Radial menus giving you access to a lot of data without cluttering the normal play screen? Smart. Daily updates for perpetually fretting Kickstarter backers? Clever. Working solo helps in a lot of this, meaning there’s no levels of understanding or bureaucracy to go through to get information out there, it’s all just what Josh is thinking or doing. His clear passion for his game is infectious.

There’s a summary of the video in a Kickstarter update post, the next one of which should be some time around the end of October. Your guess is as good as mine for a final release date, the goal in 2012 having been the start of this year, though the current FAQ states “early 2015.”


  1. Sp4rkR4t says:

    At this point his dev videos are so wonderful I kind of don’t want him to finish the game any time soon.

    • Alberto says:

      I kind of hate you now.
      I’m a backer and I want him to finish, in his own terms and times, but PLEASE FINISH IT I WANT IT DON’T LISTEN TO HIM!

    • Cockie says:

      I do want him to finish it, since I’m certain it won’t be the last game he makes.
      Rumour has it Josh dreams of a procedural Morrowind…

  2. Llewyn says:

    I think Josh Parnell is the only man out there who, when you consider the idea of an inexperienced solo dev with an ambitious project deciding to develop all his custom tools from scratch, makes me think, “Yes, that’s obviously the best thing to do,” rather than, “What lunacy is this!?”

    • RedViv says:

      He said he would, he said he could, and then he just DID it. Astonishing person.

      • Sleepymatt says:

        There are very few people I would label as a genius but Josh Parnell is undoubtedly just that. Even if LT never released, it’s incredible what he has achieved so far, and how numerous and how diverse the skillsets are that he seems to just naturally excel at. Not that I have any doubts at all that he will get over the line and release a truly stunning game. I really really hope he reaps the financial reward he deserves.

  3. Cross says:

    I am so worried that this game will end up completely soulless. A focus on systems and proceduraility isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, but it seems to me that the game is populated entirely by robots, which to me would be an extremely unfulfilling experience.

    • drinniol says:

      As opposed to every other single player space trader game ever?

    • Sandepande says:

      I don’t think the game is supposed to feature witty dialogue or epic plot, but rather (hopefully) various systems interacting, with AI doing its thing and you doing your thing and all that. This new fashion of “emergent gameplay” could be lovely, if it is deep enough.

      • Hunchback says:

        I agree with Cross, i am too quite worried that this will be an excellent “sim”, “sandbox”, and all that, but sadly as most other sandboxy experiences it’ll end up “souless”. It doesn’t have to have a bioware-worthy plot and all, but if it’s ENTIRELY made out of systems interacting, AI playing around without any distant, long-term goal, no plot at all, no quests or personalities, chacarters to interact with… anything to give it some more meaning that simply flying around in a world simulator, it’ll be sad. Sad, because i believe it COULD be both things (a sandbox with some narration), but it’s probably beyond the capabilities of a single developer to make it – because it’s not a matter of technical skills or vision, but of writing and another type of imagination, that of a story teller…

        Still, one can always hope.

        • Blackcompany says:

          Do we need plot in open world/sandbox space games? I dont mean to mock or to say you are simply wrong. Quite the contrary. I really am asking.

          Take, for instance, the rather good Starpoint Gemini 2. The game began as a Sandbox experience. Which is how – and likely the only way – I will ever play it. In games such as this, I frankly have no interest at all in a plot. Turn me loose, let me explore and trade and occasionally fight or flee, and leave me be. I simply dont think every game I play needs a narrative, and I believe that’s never more true than with sandbox space games.

          I am curious how others feel about this.

          • Sleepymatt says:

            As a player of the original Elite on the BBC B, I can safely say hour and hours were sunk in to that game with no plot whatsoever. A living world, fine gameplay and a good imagination was more than sufficient.

          • Hunchback says:

            I don’t think a sandbox game needs a STORY per se, like linear games have stories with an entry point, a plot, preset goals and an ending. However, i think a good sandbox needs more than just systems, and i think that’s what the OP of this comment-line meant.

            What i mean here is that in order for this to be really immersive, it’ll need some more or less abstract characters – Organisations with agendas? Rich tycoons? Pirate leaders? Unions… – dunno, “things” that are there to give flavor to the whole thing. That’s why i hope that the AI players will not “simply” (not to say that it’s simple to do) go about their complex and calculated business but they will do it in such a way that we the players can learn about their motivation, that there’s more than a simple set of rules that govern them, like “try to get rich” or “kill many people”. Maybe some of these goals must be pre-set in a game, in order to build it’s history, feeling and general atmosphere…

          • schlusenbach says:

            I agree with Hunchback, a sandbox doesn’t need a plot, but I think it needs lore. I believe that is the ‘soul’ that LT might be missing in the end. It’s good to have alien races or locations or stories, that have character and don’t change between playthroughs. And it’s nice to have that one ship, that you want to own. That one technology, that one weapon that really helps with this and that.
            The procedural research of LT, the neverending universe, the procedural ship designs: I hope Josh Parnell will prove me wrong, but I don’t believe these systems make a good game.

          • vecordae says:

            He does mention lore-esque blurbs that he’s deliberately not turned on for the latest update video. It is entirely possible that he intends to make each game’s history unique by tying it to the same mechanics the game uses to generate NPC factions, sort of like how Dwarf Fortress does it. In that case, nailing down the mechanics first and adding the flavor text later is probably the best approach.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          Have you watched his dev logs? One of his goals is to have long term goals in the AI, as well as to simulate the universe running by itself for years before you come in, so that you don’t come into a system that’s never “lived” before.

          I don’t think narration is necessary in a game of that sort. X3 was popular in spite of its narrative, and LT is basically a superset of X3 and other space sims.

          Ironically, my biggest worry is about Josh getting the basics right: will the gunplay feel right, will travel be interesting, will there be a challenge, etc. He’s doing an amazing job with the systems he’s building, but often it feels like that comes at the cost of the more boring (in terms of thinking up and developing) systems like combat.

          • Geebs says:

            I confess I’m more worried about Josh burning himself out; if you go back and read the older dev updates, he seemed a lot less posessed back then.

        • Shadowcat says:

          Josh has been very up-front from the outset — this game is all about procedural generation. A big part of the reasoning is exactly as you say — no matter how talented he is, custom content takes a huge amount of time, and it would simply be too much to ask.

          What is exciting, however, is the advent of the scripting language and the modding capability that comes with it. That was never promised in the Kickstarter, but it’s in there now, and I strongly suspect that it opens the door for some sort of custom mission framework, upon which narrative elements could be added by modders.

    • Bart Stewart says:

      What features would Limit Theory need to give it a soul for you?

      While I enjoy systems-play, and I think the AI of Limit Theory sounds like it’s going to be pretty robust, I’d also like for it to have brains and heart. I’m just curious how to test for the presence of soul in a game.

      • Alberto says:

        A friend and me were speaking about this. Maybe getting in contact with a writer to give the colonies and ships some background, personality, their own flavour.

        Procedural or kind-of-procedural games like Dwarf Fortress or Ultima Ratio Regum are quite good in providing inmersive lore, which affects gameplay for good.

      • Shadowcat says:

        I only hope the game has Courage.

  4. Orija says:

    Should be *uninteresting. Sorry.

  5. alexheretic says:


  6. Hunchback says:

    Great update video, again. Very impressive…

    Watching the UI part i couldn’t help but wonder how can one man have such great vision and feeling towards aesthetics, making something so nice, clean, smooth and functional, when a whole team of devs made insane engine of Starpoint Gemini 2?

    That Josh guy must really be one of the most talented developers out there, not just because of tech-knowledge…

  7. DavishBliff says:

    This guy just seems like some sort of prodigy of design and coding. It’s great to watch these videos too, since he’s really well-spoken and seems like an all-around smart guy.

  8. Kempston Wiggler says:

    It’s going to be very nice seeing the content coming together over the next few months, after what feels like an eternity of watching these systems develop, fascinating though it undeniably is. Sadly, I think my impatience to actually play this game is starting to outweigh the pleasure of watching it evolve; it just looks so good.

  9. Tinche says:

    The guy is developing on Linux? Very cool. Don’t recognize the window manager though.

    What I do recognize is Vim with airline-vim and… Ctrlp.vim? Sweet.